Elizabeth Lisa has spent her adult life teaching others to move gracefully through plots with conflict, romance and injustice.
Since immigrating to Canada, the Indonesian ballet instructor has pirouetted through a real life narrative of job search, integration and achievement.
A winding story of loss, personal persistence and a mistaken taxi driver have made her an entrepreneur who lives what she teaches.
“Ballet is about life,” she says. “It’s about determination.”
Arriving in the Vancouver Airport in 2005, Elizabeth Lisa Widyatmaka and her family members approached Immigration. The border agent looked at the ten letters of her family name. Showing frustration, he swiftly decided, “From now on, your last name is Lisa.” In the same brief conversation, her two teen sons’ lost their family name as well and were left with only first and middle names.
Just like that, ten letters from Lisa’s identity disappeared.
Dance School Dilemma
After settling in northeast Surrey, Lisa joined an ISSofBC job search training program. She heard about an opening for a ballet instructor in Abbotsford. Cheerfully, she pursued the opportunity with a resume and was soon offered an interview. For this job seeker who had no car at the time, that meant taking a city bus to Langley and then a Greyhound bus to Abbotsford.
Upon arriving at the Langley station, the optimistic newcomer was saddened to learn her bus had been cancelled. Luckily, there were taxis at the station.
A personable taxi driver looked at the school name and offered to drive her to Abbotsford, about 30 km away, to the school which he claimed to know very well.
Half an hour and $80 in cab fare later, they arrived. Feeling triumphant, Lisa walked through the front doors of the school.
After a quick conversation, the job-seeking ballerina realized she was at the wrong school. But upon hearing about her experience, the owner offered Lisa a job anyway.
Later that day, the original school called her and invited her back. Arriving in Canadian with prestigious Royal Academy of Dance membership made her valuable. She set up another interview, and then got that job, where she continued working for several years. She declined the offer from the other school.
Lisa bought a car and got her Canadian driver’s licence as quickly as she could. The whole bus and taxi thing hadn’t really worked out for her very well.
Since arriving in Canada, Lisa has normally worked six days a week for two different dance schools. During breaks or slow times, she had to find alternate ways to make an income. A creative and resourceful person, Lisa has delivered newspapers, worked in retail and more. She raised her sons on her own when her husband returned to Indonesia four months after their arrival.
Life is full of complications; Lisa had her share, too many to describe here. Yet, when the opportunity came to start and grow her own school at the end of 2014, she grabbed it. AzestA Ballet School (azesta.ca) is her creation and her growing group of students in Abbotsford and Langley practice and perform under her direction.
She’s had ample experience with operating dance schools. In Indonesia, her Vidyarami Ballet Studio (translated, it means “Knowledge Queen”) grew to eight branches after its 1989 opening.
“I was younger and I was stronger,” Lisa says, “but now I have more experience.”
In Abbotsford and Langley, she’s had success attracting ballet students from a range of ethnicities. A solid one-third of her students come from the Sikh community. Lisa has also had success drawing boys to ballet.
At the moment, her students are preparing for a December performance of Sarah and Tasha:The Redemption of Joyeux at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium on December 13.
After this performance, there will be more. The immigrant who became a Canadian citizen in 2008 will continue building her life here.
“This is the place I belong to now,” she says.
About the Author: Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.